Thomasville’s first Black woman Rotary Club district governor honored in South Africa

Thomasville Rotary member honored for her hard work
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 9:51 PM EDT
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THOMASVILLE, Ga. (WALB) - A South Georgia woman is getting a rare award for the volunteer and humanitarian work she has done over the years.

André Hadley-Marria, of Thomasville, is one of six Rotary People of Action to be recognized for her efforts in building a culture of diversity and inclusion in South Georgia. Her work over the past 40 years is almost too numerous to mention, but her efforts in the Rotary Club have gained her international attention, going all the way to accepting an award in Cape Town, South Africa.

“In 1969, two friends and myself, we sat in a ditch in Thomasville, and we decided that we wanted to come back because all the younger generations were leaving and they never wanted to come back for whatever reason,” Marria said. “It was a small town and whatever we decided to do for a living we wanted to make a difference in our community.”

In 2005, Marria was welcomed by the Rotary Club of Thomasville, but her work started long before that. For over 40 years, Marria says her passion and work have always been focused on the younger generation.

“So, when I returned to Thomasville, I started working in adult mental health, and then from there I was exposed to adolescent services there,” Marria adds. “And the lack of professionals in that disciple, so I decided to concentrate my passion for kids in that to do that.”

She says her passion has always been focused on the kids, so creating programs in Thomas County over the past 10 years to help educate them on abstinence, HIV and teen pregnancy has been some of the issues at the forefront of her humanitarian work.

Mental stretching through the arts is one program Marria implemented and she says this program is one that kids enjoy the most to express themselves.

“You use music, drama, poetry to teach them how to think. You want the focus on thinking and expressing themselves. Kids love lyrics. And the lyrics tell the story that their voice can’t tell,” Marria said.

Marrisa’s work also extends outside of Thomas County, but to Grady and Dougherty County too.

“When I became an adult, I wanted to make sure I give back to the community the things that I didn’t think adults gave kids,” Marria said.

The journey has not been easy. With her work in diversity and inclusion, Marria says she had to break a stereotype of diversity and inclusion being only about race.

“Thomasville, Georgia. A Little black girl from Thomasville, Georgia gets to represent her country. I get emotional with that, it’s amazing.” Marria said. “It’s a mixed emotion for two reasons, there are many women like me who can do this, but it’s amazing that my state, my district saw that we needed to do something different. And they did, and that’s doing the right thing.”

Marria says she will continue her work after she returns from South Africa because Rotary is all about service and the service will continue.